What's Up in YA

“The worst heartbreaks of my life have all been friendship breakups”: Amy Spalding On Friendship in YA

Hey YA Readers!

I’ve got a treat of a guest newsletter for you today. Long-time readers — as well as listeners of the Hey YA podcast — know that Amy Spalding is a favorite author of mine. She’s well-known for her delightful and well-drawn romantic comedies. But in her latest book, We Used To Be Friends, which comes out tomorrow, she turns her storytelling skills to friendship and what happens when a friendship comes to an end.

The book is told in a unique timeline, from the perspective of two girls who used to be close but who drift apart. What happened? Who is at fault? Where so often we see these stories about romances, it’s powerful to see the breakup/breakdown of a long-time friendship.

I asked Amy to stop by and talk about friendship in YA and some of the most powerful stories of friendships and friendship breakups she’s read.

Without further ado, Amy!


Since I’ve mainly written YA romcoms, I’ve spent a delightful amount of time discussing romance. Kissing scenes, how to make a love interest swoony (good hair and good banter is a winning formula, I’ve found), how to find enough drama to keep those pages turning without dooming your sweet couple forever! I love it all, from the meet cutes to the happily ever after, but these are not the only love stories I’m after in books.

In my life, friendship has been such a defining and powerful force. It can be as deep, complex, and transforming as romance, but unfortunately it doesn’t always get that elevated treatment in pop culture. Luckily, there are many books where friendship takes a major role.

I’ve fallen hard for books about friendship since I was little. The first group of friends that captured my heart were Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, in Maud Hart Lovelace’s classic Betsy-Tacy series. I remember how refreshing it was to read when Tib met the tight-knit best friends Betsy and Tacy that instead of splintering the friends or causing jealousies, the friendship circle simply expanded.

A few years later I discovered the Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and immediately loved every member of that iconic initial foursome: Kristy, Mary-Anne, Claudia, and Stacey. Like Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, the girls were so different from each other, but they worked together and appreciated each other’s strengths. Over the course of the series, of course, things happened. They fought, people were jealous, new friends came in and made old friends nervous. But the girls took their friendships and their business seriously!

Luckily there are so many modern books featuring incredible friendships too. The ghost story might be at the center of Robyn Schneider’s Invisible Ghosts, but I loved getting to watch Rose reconnect with an old friend group, as well as see the easy, lived-in way these kids already connect with each other. Groups of friends have such wonderful, sweet, and silly ways of functioning, and Schneider is a master at capturing that complicated network seemingly effortlessly on the page.

I adore books about travel and new experiences, but sometimes in watching a character explore, we miss out on seeing their existing beautiful friendships. This is one thing I love so much about Sarah Kuhn’s I Love You So Mochi. Kimi might be learning about her family—and herself—in Japan, but she stays in tight contact with her BFFs thanks to her phone. She might be halfway around the world, but she never feels disconnected from their support, advice, and (loving) teasing.

Full Disclosure, Camryn Garrett’s debut novel, deals beautifully with knotty best friend dynamics. Simone isn’t great at balancing friendship with everything else in her life, understandably. I love how much empathy this story has for all the people surrounding Simone, even when Simone can’t see how much others have to offer. Getting to see Simone grow as she lets her friends and support group into her life more is one of the book’s biggest joys.

But, of course, as wonderful as friendship can be, just like romance, sometimes it ends too. The worst heartbreaks of my life have all been friendship breakups, and so even though I love writing best friends who support each other, I wanted to write about this part too. The hard times. The misunderstandings. The way it dawns on you that someone doesn’t mean to you what they used to…or is it the other way around?

In We Used to Be Friends, James and Kat have been BFFs since kindergarten, but things have gotten tougher senior year. Everything is changing, and maybe their friendship is too. While James is dealing with a huge shift within her family, Kat’s fallen in love with her first girlfriend, and suddenly the friends don’t quite seem to connect anymore. They’re facing their futures from completely different perspectives, so what does it mean when the person you were closest to suddenly feels so far away?

I tell the story backward and forward, and from both girls’ points of view, because like in many breakups, there’s no bad guy or hero. There are just people doing their best to connect at a time when it’s gotten really hard.

Thank you so much, Amy, and thank you all for hanging out again this week. I hope you found some excellent books to dig into to start your new year of reading.

We’ll see you again later this week.

— Kelly Jensen, @heykellyjensen on Instagram and editor of (Don’t) Call Me Crazy and Here We Are.